Book, Music &Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Reviewer: Rosanna Sloan
Based on Puccini’s La Boheme, Rent is a rock opera about a group of struggling artists trying to make ends meet in difficult times. Battling drug addictions, HIV and the establishment, Rent is full of humour, heartache, highs and lows as the characters struggle with their relationships, and their identities in 1990’s New York.
There is nothing that separates Curve’s Community Production of Rent to a version of the show you will see in the West End. Each note is full of angst and raw precision as the story comes tumbling out of the forty-plus strong cast. From the pre-set, seeing Curve’s main stage and backstage fully exposed for the public to see, this production is fresh, exciting and full of energy. The stamina the cast need to have to get from start to finish is astonishing, and even more astonishing is the fact that they can do it, and they do it with grace and apparent ease – and these are not ‘professional actors’.
Paul Kerryson teases the best out of every performer in every moment of this production. The opportunity for the young and upcoming talent of Leicester to be directed by a figure as experienced as Kerryson, who incidentally directed Rent on the West End in 2001, is a rare and fortunate experience; providing a taste of what the big time feels like, and the work that is needed to get there. There is no weak link in this ensemble.
Jak Skelly tears up the vocals playing hard to reach character Roger, providing the perfect counterbalance to TimWilson’s fly on the wall character Mark. Together they are a powerhouse in duet ‘What You Own’ and they are not the only explosive pairing. Tabatha Pegg (Maureen) and Sharan Phull (Joanne) perfectly complement each in the battle of the voices that is ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ and ooze frustration, love, and desire all at once as they challenge each other to walk away from their relationship. Keir Barradell shines as fun loving drag queen Angeltaking the whole stage under his/her wing, commanding the audience to fall in love with the character as much as her on stage partner Tom Collins does. Matthew Browne as Collins sings a tender farewell in the second act, with just the right level of vocal control, that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house. Then there’s fragile Mimi, played by Lola McKinnon with a fantastic range and an alluring voice, pulling us into the character’s tragic, dead end life, while still stringing the audience along into thinking that somehow she might change her ways for the better. Bennyplayed by Christopher McCannonce again provides the perfect contrast in terms of vocal quality and physicality to the rest of this bohemian gang, ensuring he remains an outsider to this tight knit group.
Then there is the supporting cast who make this production what it is, an enormous achievement, a pleasure to watch, and a tribute to the dedication and talent of each individual that makes up the whole. “That note” in ‘Seasons of Love’ sends shivers down the spine, as does the execution of the choral arrangements in ‘Will I?’and ‘I’ll Cover You’ thanks also to Musical Director Ben Atkinson. It is not easy to sing a cappella in key, let alone sing a cappella as if you are leaving a voicemail message, but this cast manage it with vocal precision and a dash of humour to move the story along.
At times the open wings can prove distracting, as offstage cast members peer on to set, but the stripped back staging, concert lighting and simple yet effective choreography contribute to the punchy, sassy vibe this production exudes. Curve’s Community Production of Rent is raw, energising and full of the faces you will see in the West End in years to come. A must see.
Photo: Pamela Raith | Runs until 7thth August.